Hannibal, Battle of Cannae

I am really enjoying reading about the various exploits of those who dared to stand against the Roman Empire. Hannibal is a name known to many, and famous for his taking elephants through the Alps. Perhaps the most interesting battle I have come across is the Battle of Cannae.

The scene is Italy, 216 BC. Hannibal has already been victorious against the Romans in Trebia and at Lake Trasimene. The Romans decided to change tack, first trying to trap Hannibal. Matyszak notes:

As Hannibal pillaged Campania, he allowed [the Roman General] Fabius to slip a garrison into Casilinum, near Capua. From here, the river Volturnus blocked Hannibal’s retreat while Fabius waited in the mountains between Casilinum and the colony of Cales. This put Hannibal in a trap. He could not remain in a plain which he had stripped of supplies, nor could he launch his army in a suicidal assault against a Roman army entrenched in a superior position. Yet these appeared to be his choices.

Eventually, it seemed that Hannibal chose to try a night break-out. The Romans saw the torches of the army streaming towards a well-guarded pass. Confident that the garrison there could intercept the attempted break-out, Fabius refused to move from his camp, despite the pleas and imprecations of his subordinates, who saw a chance of breaking the Carthaginians once and for all.

But when Fabius’ garrison carried out their interception, they found thousands of cattle with torches tied to their horns, but no Carthaginian soldiers. Hannibal’s army was streaming through the position which they had abandoned, taking their booty and heading for winter quarters in Apulia.

Following this embarrasing episode the Romans decided to revert to the warfare they knew best – engage and crush the enemy in open battle. Accordingly they gathered together no fewer than eight legions, each of about 5,000 men. Together with their alies and cavalry, they had at least 85,000 men to Hannibal’s 50,000.

Later that Summer, Hannibal took Cannae and seized the corn supplies designated to feed Rome’s massive army. Hannibal was eager for battle with the Romans, as were the two Roman consuls, Terentius Varro and Aemilius Paullus. So on the morning of August 2, 216 BC the two armies faced each other.

What ensued was a classic flanking movement by Hannibal, using Numidian, Spanish and Gallic cavalry to encircle the massive Roman legion formation. The battle resulted in the death of as many as 45,000 Romans on a single day, a figure of deaths on a single day unrivalled until the first day of the Somme offensive in 1916.

Remembering the Irish

Young Irelander wonders if there is any form of website that promotes the issue of Irish participation in the two world wars.

This is a serious subject, and one I have personal experience of. My great grand uncle, Owen Clerkin, was killed near the Somme valley on the 15th of September 1916. This was towards the end of the Somme campaign. He was a private in the Irish Guards and died at the age of 26. He is buried at Delville Wood Cemetery, Longueval, France. In 2000 I visited his grave, and was on of his first relatives to go there. It was an emotional experience, as are all of the Great War memorials in Belgium and France, many of which I have visited. There is something about the Great War that is different, something about the sheer waste that makes my perception of it different to other wars.

And all credit to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, they are a great source of information. Details of my relative are here.

Details of the area he saw battle in are here. There is also a photo of the cemetery he is buried in, it is an incredibly well maintained place, as are all CWGC graves. My relative was one of the lucky ones, his body was actually identified and he has his own grave, unlike hundreds of thousands whose names appear on memorials like the Menin Gate in Ypres.

Odyssey in search of treasure

The Guardian has a good article on the impending excavation of the wreck of the Sussex, a British warship that sank in 1694 while on a secret diplomatic mission for King William III.

The estimated value of the contents of the vessel is £2.4bn. A company called Odyssey will be very rich if it finds what its looking for. The British government will also get its share:

The deal struck between the US firm and the MoD sees Britain get a share of the spoils on a sliding scale, which initially favours the Americans, who would get 80% of the first £28m. Anything more than this would be shared equally, up to £319m after which the Treasury share rises to 60%.

The UK has most of the rights to any artefacts, such as canon, anchors etc. Odyssey’s bargaining position was that it found the wreck, and has borne all the costs – more than £2m so far – and the financial risks, should the project not come off.